“Today men expect to be able to treat all women like prostitutes, only without just compensation, and the virgins are the ones who are now stigmatized, told that no man will have them – just as the prostitutes of old were once told that no man could ever love them” – Excerpt from ‘A Return to Modesty’ by Wendy Shalit
I remember the impact of hook-up culture and the sexual revolution from a young age. I can remember early in my teenage years, in secondary school, when at around the age of 14 it became cool to have ‘done things’ with another person. It started with innocent kissing. Just a peck. Then ‘getting off’ with someone (A.K.A making-out, for you Americans), which seemed terrifying enough. Why do you put your tongue in their mouth? Will I be awful at it? What does a tongue taste like? Will it be slimy? It seemed that year after year, the social pressure grew and grew. Girls who wouldn’t sexually satisfy their newly-gained boyfriends were smeared with the label of ‘frigid’, a horrible term to describe, according to Google “(of a woman) unable to be sexually aroused and responsive”. For some reason, wanting to leave the adult stuff to adulthood was really quite uncool.
At the time, it felt wrong to be socially coerced into sexual relations with someone when in my mind I still felt like a girl. I watched as one by one, my friends passed through this invisible sexual threshold, submerging themselves into adulthood. These girls became surrounded by curious, excited peers asking about the taboo details of the act that relieved her of a ‘frigid’ reputation. I always wondered how these friends appeared so cool and collected about their early sexual encounters. How did they know what to do? Did they enjoy it? What if they did something embarrassingly awkward, and the whole school found out? I had many questions, all of which I kept inside my head – I’d have felt embarrassed at my naivety asking such things and didn’t want to expose my own sexual inexperience for fear of being at best, judged, and at worst, exposed. I only wish I’d known what I know now, that it’s easy for people to keep up appearances on the outside, and still be anxious and unsure on the inside, scrabbling to secure the façade of socially acceptable normality.
Thankfully, I waited for the right person to lose my virginity to. Someone I’m still with today and expect to be with for a very long time. However, there are other things that I didn’t wait to do, in my eagerness to relieve my anxieties about social judgement. Though I by no means went wild, I regret not waiting for the right person to share such special and intimate parts of myself with. Only in my immaturity and naivety, in a rush to clear myself of some stupid label, would I make such awful judgements. The relief of knowing I was now a little more ‘normal’ was not worth the possible emotional and physical dangers of being both naïve and sexually active. I know dear friends who have, albeit at an older age, put themselves in similar situations on numerous occasions and now have a lifelong STD to worry about – a disease that makes them feel in their own words ‘dirty’, that they will have to tell each new partner about, that could potentially increase their risk of further health issues.
I’ve known acquaintances who thought they’d be fine not using protection, thinking they could have sex without the consequences (because isn’t this what the ongoing sexual revolution preaches?), and ending up in an abortion clinic with both an unwanted baby (which was swiftly aborted) and chlamydia. A number of my friends have turned to casual sex in times of desperate depression, loneliness and boredom. They wanted to explore; they wanted to feel empowered. It was not the antidote to their feelings of hopelessness, but arguably exacerbated the feelings further.
My teenage experiences and the experiences of those close to me have left me with all the more admiration for people who really do wait until they find ‘the one’ before they become sexually active or put off sex until marriage. Yet I fear that these individuals will become rarer and rarer. When I was younger, I only remember the pressure being from my peers, not from the adults around me. The teen magazine I pleaded my mum to buy on our weekly supermarket shop wasn’t weighing up the pros and cons of casual sex or reviewing sex toys. Yet now, Cosmopolitan magazine does just this – a magazine for young women. Examples are listed below.
- Can friends with benefits actually ever work? Here are all the potential pros and cons
- 10 life-changing sex toys to use with a penis-having partner
- What you need to know before using anal beads for the first time
It doesn’t get much better with Glamour magazine, my girlhood favourite:
Maybe it’s more rebellious to abstain from the casual sex that’s being pushed on us, now more than ever. Perhaps it’s time to reject the current wave of feminism and the sexual revolution that puts women in much more danger than they were ever in waiting for a husband who valued their innocence. Though, it’s easy to say this now in a happy relationship, with a little more wisdom, and some distance from the tight grip of teenage conformity.
Until next time,